Raise your glasses and let the sky be black with hats, it’s Scots Whay Hae’s birthday. Two years ago I started this blog for a couple of reasons. The first was pure pragmatism as I sought to find a way of keeping myself sane while I wrote my PhD thesis which had come to a grinding halt. However, the main reason was to write about those things I cared for with a passion. I’ll admit that there may at times be a lack of objective critical analysis, but that was never really the point. I wanted to say ‘I love this, and I think you will too’.
So with that in mind, and before I blow out the candles, I want to say a hearty ‘Cheers!’ to those who have supported me along the way, and continue to do so. People such as Andrew Collins who gave me some invaluable advice and who helped raise the profile of the site by allowing me to interview him. Other interviewees to thank include Richard Herring, Doug Johnstone, Alan Bissett, Kevin MacNeill, Ewan Morrison and, particularly, Mark Buckland and Rodge Glass, both of whom have been constant flag wavers for Scots Whay Hae! and what it attempts to do.
Thanks also to those involved with the literary journal Valve, the fine folk who make up the team at Cargo Publishing and those lovely people at Birlinn and Polygon Books, especially Sarah Morrison and Vickki Reilly; all of whom have reassured me that the future of Scottish literature is in the hands of people who love it as much as I do. I also have to tip my hat to those bands and musicians (or those who represent them) who send me their music to listen to, much of which makes my life immeasurably more pleasant. Keep it coming.
Special thanks to the new additions to the Scots Whay Hae! family; Ian Gregson, Chris Ward, Kirsty Neary and, just signed on the dotted line, Ronnie Young, all of whom are involved in the new Scots Whay Hae! podcasts. We love recording them and I hope that you enjoy listening to them. If they take off as we hope then expect interviews and special guests and all sorts of other exciting hoopla to come your way soon. I also appreciate the support from The List, particularly Nicola Meighan who always exhibits exquisite taste and who shares my obsession with Restless Natives.
Then there are those who were early adopters, my fellow bloggers Aye Tunes, Peenko and, most of all, The Dear from over at Dear Scotland who gave me an ongoing monthly column on his site, known as Indelible Ink, where I could write at length about modern Scottish Literature without any constraints. Finding out that there were other single-minded obsessives out there made me realise I wasn’t just shouting into a void, and their support gave me the confidence to believe that maybe my writing wasn’t so bad after all.
Dear Scotland also published my first article for a website that wasn’t my own. It was basically a paper I had written on Gregory’s Girl while at Uni, so I can admit it is a little dry, but to have someone else want to post my work meant a great deal. It also inspired my first piece of online criticism from the ubiquitous ‘anonymous’, who simply commented “What a prick”. This remains my favourite reaction to anything I’ve written and is a pithy reminder that you can’t please everyone, so first off try and please yourself.
And, of course, thanks to everyone who visits, reads and comments on Scots Whay Hae! I appreciate your support more than you can possibly know and I hope you keep on coming over, even if it’s just for a chat. If I have forgotten to thank anyone who should have had a mention then please forgive me, absolutely pull me up on it, and my guilt will guarantee you a drink. Talking of which I’m off for a large one.
For the first time on Scots Whay Hae! here is that Gregory’s Girl piece. It’s interesting to revisit and compare it with what appears on the site today. Have a read and you can see if old anonymous was right after all:
Modern Girls, Modern Boys: How Gregory’s Girl Promised a New Scotland
"The nicest part is just before you taste it but that can’t go on forever! "(1)
The post-punk era of the late seventies and early eighties in Scotland was a time of artistic confidence and success. In fiction Alasdair Gray had his magnus-opus Lanark published, while James Kelman was working on the short stories of Not, Not While the Giro that would bring him great acclaim and put him on the road to notoriety. Their fiction allowed Scotland to be seen as exhibiting a new imagination as they reported on their surroundings in a fresh and extremely individual way.
But it was in music and film that this new Scotland was brought to the attention of a wider populace. ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’ was the name given to a vibrant music scene that it could be argued has never been matched. It was exemplified by Postcard Records whose rosta included bands such as Glasgow’s Orange Juice, East Kilbride’s Aztec Camera and from Edinburgh, Josef K and The Fire Engines. They continue to be an inspiration not only to contemporary musicians from Scotland, such as Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and Popup, but bands worldwide. It was not only their music that was new. Here were musicians who wore there art-school roots and fey haircuts with pride and who were not afraid to let audiences know that they had read Kafka, Mailer and Nietzsche.
Among those making waves were Altered Images and their singer, Claire Grogan, or C.P. Grogan as she was billed in her film and television work. She became the poster girl for ‘Young Scotland’ and Altered Images quickly became indie-darlings, with the single Dead Pop Stars featuring in John Peel’s end of year Festive Fifty round up. They then went on to have considerable chart success with songs such as Happy Birthday, See Those Eyes and Dont Talk to Me About Love. But, for many people Claire Grogan will always be Susan, the winsome schoolgirl who uses her scheming friends to eventually become Gregory’s Girl (1981). … Bill Forsyth’s films showed the same confidence and disregard for previous stereotypes as the new music scene. Questions of gender and class were to the fore. In his first feature film That Sinking Feeling (1979) Forsyth showed a Glasgow gang who were not interested in casual violence, drink and sectarianism, but who were involved in a plan to get rid of knock-off sinks, part of which involved one-character dressing as a cleaning-lady. The film comments on unemployment and poverty, but also displayed a comedic lightness of touch that had been missing from previous Scottish dramas that had dealt with such topics. Gregory’s Girl took the sensibility of Forsyth’s first feature and bused it up the road to the then new town of Cumbernauld. By showing a part of Scotland that had never previously existed, Forsyth could present his characters without them being saddled with the cultural baggage that would have occurred had Gregory s Girl been set in other areas of the country.
Forsyth’s Cumbernauld is clean, new, desirable and safe. A place where teenagers could walk, and dance, in the park and the only worry was bumping into a lecherous school photographer and his mini-me assistant. These were images of a Scotland that would be unrecognisable to an outside audience, who were used to contrasting images of No Mean City and Brigadoon, but to those living in Scotland this was an area and time they could place, and here were characters who were recognisable, but not stereotypical. … The obvious way that Forsyth plays with traditional images of Scotland is in terms of gender. In Gregory s Girl the best footballer is Dorothy and the best cook is Steve. Traditionally football was men-only, and for a boy to take Home-Economics over Woodwork or Technical Drawing was at the time was almost unheard of. Times were changing, and it is to Forsyth’s credit that he was aware of this change, but in the film there are other, more subtle, subversions of society’s expectations. In his book British Cinema in the 1980s John Hill acknowledges this subversion: … “Adults behave like children, children behave like adults, boys behave like girls and girls behave like boys. While this has a certain link with the theme of escape characteristic of British social realism, it is also the case that the desire to escape is not, in this case, motivated by poverty or hardship but by a wish to break free of the fixities of conventional social roles and identities (and especially those of gender)”. (2) …. Hill is right about such role reversals, and there are other stereotypes which are burst; stereotypes which highlight the preconceived social roles and identities that Forsyth wished to avoid. A film set in the West of Scotland that contains football footage, but never mentions religion or the Old Firm (Gregory has a Partick Thistle scarf on his wall), and which portrays teenagers who actually go to school, sober, and never mention drugs. While it would be foolish to pretend that such things are not a part of Scottish culture, or any European country’s culture, to look at most representations of Scottish teenagers in the latter part of the 20th century you would think their lives were about nothing less. The storyline, one that deliberately echoes Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, is really about the manipulation of the naïve boys by the smarter girls.
But such manipulation is not as a result of Lolita-esque teasing or promises of sex. This is a more innocent picture of romance, one where confused boys are willing participants in the girls charming and amorous games. From Gregory’s little sister Madeleine, to the Italian teacher who Gregory turns to in an afternoon of need, it is the women who are in control while letting the males believe the opposite. As Gregory states to disposed goalkeeper Andy while watching Dorothy play football: “Modern Girls, Modern Boys, it’s tremendous”. (3)
Bill Forsyth went on to make Local Hero (1983) and Comfort and Joy (1984), both of which continued to present new visions of Scotland to their audience. Both are great films, but neither of them quite had the innocence and charm of Gregory’s Girl. Innocence and charm are not words that usually spring to mind when talking about Scottish cinema but Forsyth proved that you don't need brutality, depravity or overt tartanry to make an impact. Gregory is right, it is terrific. What’s really terrific is that Bill Forsyth had made a film for a new Scotland, one whose hope was to be destroyed as the unemployment of the 1980s began to kick in. But for a while it seemed so near, we could almost taste it.
Footnotes: (1) Madeline to Gregory in a café talking about lime and ginger beer, Gregory’s Girl (1981) (2) John Hill, British Cinema in the 1980s (London: BFI, 1999) p 243 (3) Gregory speaks to Andy as he is supposed to be keeping goal for the school team, Gregory’s Girl (1981)